The federal government announced its plan to double the number of international students studying in Canada by 2025. According to the Minister of International Trade Ed Fast, Ottawa’s plan will see the number of international students in Canada increase from the current 260,000 to about 450,000. Recruiting international students is beneficial in multiple levels as they bring diversity and new perspectives to academics, contribute to the economy and act as informal ambassadors of culture and ideas. The plan is viewed favourably in general by the public and the universities, but there are worries that the government’s plan may be overly optimistic.
The international student body at the post-secondary level makes up about 6.5% of the total student population. Out of the 26,000 international students, 59% come from the top 5 countries: China, India, Korea, Saudi Arabia and USA. Korea has about 19,000 students across Canada, which is about 7% of all international students. Also, students are concentrated in three provinces Ontario (42%), BC (26%), and Quebec (15%), which is not surprising considering that most institutions are focused in these three provinces. The international students pay at least three times more tuition than their Canadian classmates, and the industry provides over 80,000 jobs and 8 billion dollars into the Canadian economy. The trend of students going abroad should increase as OECD estimates that there will be 7.2 million international students by 2025 from the current 3.5 million.
While Canada has always been a favourite destination for international students, Canada has been losing ground to places like Australia and Singapore recently because these countries recruit and aggressively market their education systems. The government included a marketing budget that totals 18 million over the next couple of years, in order to provide better recruitment strategies overseas. However, there are also doubts whether 18 million is adequate to cover the lost grounds and pull ahead against other countries that are recruiting as well. Therefore, providing sustainable strategies such as immigration programs, social benefits etc. may be a great way for Canada to compete in the market.
There are also worrisome voices that are concerned about Canadian students being displaced by international students. Many of the universities are crowded, and some classes are very difficult to take due to lack of capacity. Also, getting admission to Canadian universities is very competitive even for the local students, and that may be a point of concern for some students. More importantly, if the government thrusts numbers upon universities without giving them time to plan out their international student agenda, the plan can become a total failure. The support between the government and the universities is critical to making Canadian universities not only excellent destinations for international students, but also improved, diverse and innovative places of education for Canadians.